In what one leader called an “unusual alliance,” S.C. fiscal conservative, environmental and voting-rights groups banded together to call for ethics law changes Wednesday – a week after Gov. Nikki Haley unveiled her plans.
The groups, headed by the libertarian S.C. Policy Council think tank, said they want:
• More public information about state budgeting and economic-development incentives.
• A shorter legislative session to limit the influence by lobbyists
• The governor to nominate judges, rather than a merit committee selected by lawmakers.
“We have been too soft in talking about ethics. What we’re really talking about is corruption,” Policy Council president Ashley Landess said. “The concentration of power and secrecy (in South Carolina) has led to the nation’s most powerful, least accountable politicians.”
Joining the Policy Council are the Coastal Conservation League, an environmental organization; the S.C. Campaign for Liberty, a Tea Party group; and Operation Lost Vote, which is aiding petition candidates after more than 250 challengers were booted off ballots this year.
“In South Carolina, there’s strange things happening,” Conservation League executive director Dana Beach said. “We end up without having politicians develop the courage to stand up and really hold people accountable for doing the wrong thing.”
Some of the groups’ proposals are similar to those advocated by Haley, cleared in June by the House Ethics Committee of charges she that used her House seat for personal gain. All agree that:
• All state agencies and the Legislature should follow the state’s Freedom of Information open records law.
Lawmakers should disclose their sources of income.
• All ethics complaints should go to the S.C. Ethics Commission, not the S.C. House and state Senate ethics committees.
But Haley’s proposals along with those expected from lawmakers, including House Speaker Bobby Harrell, don’t go far enough, the groups said Wednesday.
“We will no longer allow elected officials to tell us when the job is done,” said Harry Kibler, head of Operation Lost Vote. “We’ll let them know when we reached reform.”
Landess said if Haley was serious about open records, for instance, she could order agencies under her control immediately to speed their response to information requests from the public and not charge fees.
The groups need lawmakers to introduce the ethics changes, adding they will rally voters to pressure legislators to adopt the changes into law.
“It’s been the standard that we accepted that the State House is like the weather: We can’t control it, we just have to sit back and take it,” Landess said. “I don’t think everyone feels that way anymore.”